The NFU has lambasted a letter sent by Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling to other EU finance ministers in which he calls for a fundamental reform of Europe’s agriculture sector.

In particular, the chancellor wants and end to all food import tariffs, the phasing out of all elements of the CAP that boost prices to farmers and an end to direct payments.

The letter has been sent ahead of the monthly meeting of all EU finance ministers in Brussels on Wednesday (14 May) and as a prelude to a wider debate on world food prices at the June meeting.

But NFU president Peter Kendall described the letter as “badly timed and tactically inept”, especially as it could lead to the UK being sidelined in key Brussels negotiations.

“We’ve been assured that the British government would negotiate for a constructive evolution of the CAP in the upcoming health check, yet this letter is effectively calling for the CAP to be scrapped.

“Equally, it is one thing for the Chancellor to call for a conclusion of the WTO talks, but quite another for him to call for the abolition of all (import) tariffs at a critical stage of the negotiations.”

Mr Kendall recalled that the government’s ‘Vision’ document in 2005, just ahead of key talks on the long-term financing of the CAP, had done more to antagonise than to persuade other member states.

“All the indications are that this letter will irritate others in Europe and be counter-productive to the government’s wish to see constructive progress on agriculture and trade,” he said.

EU farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel is due to present her formal legal proposals for the health check in Brussels next week.